Presidential candidate Donald Trump is certainly no stranger to lawsuits, but the newest one on the pile is related to his White House run and not his various businesses. Photographers Wendy Shattil and Bob Rozinski are suing Trump for copyright infringement in a New York federal court for the allegedly unauthorized use of a bald eagle photo. Entitled “Bald Eagle Portrait #010,” the picture features the image of the national bird’s forward-facing head against a dark blue background. It was created in 1980 by Shattil and Rozinski and described as “a piercing, intimate, eye-to-eye moment with this majestic creature.” “It would be difficult, as perhaps an understatement, to recreate such an image given the challenge of replicating and capturing such a fleeting moment in nature,” the plaintiffs explained in the suit. The Trump campaign is accused of using the photo on promotional materials without permission.
Shattil and Rozinski saw the image in February during news coverage of the New Hampshire presidential primary. Someone at a rally had a sign with their apparent image, and they also discovered that it was being used for official Trump merchandise on sale online. As part of the lawsuit, the photographers included screenshots from a page of signage merchandise that showed yard signs with the eagle and Trump slogans “Make America Great Again” and “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.”
The plaintiffs also claimed that the Trump campaign is encouraging third-party infringement. “The Defendants published content incorporating the Photograph via Internet social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, intending that the individuals accessing such content via those services would share via Facebook, retweet via Twitter, and pin via Pinterest that content for subsequent use by others. The effect of this iterated unauthorized reproduction and redistribution is the rampant viral infringement of Plaintiffs’ exclusive rights in their Photographs.” The photographers said attempts to contact the Trump campaign over the matter and resolve it without litigation went unanswered.
Copyright owners often find their work used without permission during political campaigns when candidates think it best represents their particular movement. It’s not uncommon for musicians to publicly denounce use of their music. The problem that arises when politicians use the copyrighted material of others is that it can be infringement, and even if it is licensed properly, sometimes artists don’t want to risk alienating fans by having their work associated with controversial figures (such as Trump), or they themselves simply don’t agree with the person’s message.
Trump has a fairly long list of musicians who have spoken out against his use of their music, and it reads like a really great concert lineup: Adele, Def Leppard, R.E.M., Neil Young, and Morrissey. Other politicians who have also run into issues are Michele Bachmann for Tom Petty’s “American Girl,” John McCain for “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne, Newt Gingrich with “Eye of the Tiger” by Survivor, and Sarah Palin with Heart’s “Barracuda.”
For more information on copyright and unauthorized use, please stay tuned to The Fried Firm blog.